Bullying in Schools
ERIC Identifier: ED407154
Publication Date: 1997-04-00
Author: Banks, Ron
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Bullying in schools is a worldwide problem that can have negative consequences for the
general school climate and for the right of students to learn in a safe environment
without fear. Bullying can also have negative lifelong consequences--both for students
who bully and for their victims. Although much of the formal research on bullying has
taken place in the Scandinavian countries, Great Britain, and Japan, the problems
associated with bullying have been noted and discussed wherever formal schooling
Bullying is comprised of direct behaviors such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting,
and stealing that are initiated by one or more students against a victim. In addition to
direct attacks, bullying may also be more indirect by causing a student to be socially
isolated through intentional exclusion. While boys typically engage in direct bullying
methods, girls who bully are more apt to utilize these more subtle indirect strategies,
such as spreading rumors and enforcing social isolation (Ahmad & Smith, 1994; Smith
& Sharp, 1994). Whether the bullying is direct or indirect, the key component of bullying
is that the physical or psychological intimidation occurs repeatedly over time to create
an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
Various reports and studies have established that approximately 15% of students are
either bullied regularly or are initiators of bullying behavior (Olweus, 1993). Direct
bullying seems to increase through the elementary years, peak in the middle
school/junior high school years, and decline during the high school years. However,
while direct physical assault seems to decrease with age, verbal abuse appears to
remain constant. School size, racial composition, and school setting (rural, suburban, or
urban) do not seem to be distinguishing factors in predicting the occurrence of bullying.
Finally, boys engage in bullying behavior and are victims of bullies more frequently than
girls (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Nolin, Davies, & Chandler, 1995; Olweus, 1993; Whitney &
CHARACTERISTICS OF BULLIES AND VICTIMS
Students who engage in bullying behaviors seem to have a need to feel powerful and in
control. They appear to derive satisfaction from inflicting injury and suffering on others,
seem to have little empathy for their victims, and often defend their actions by saying
that their victims provoked them in some way. Studies indicate that bullies often come
from homes where physical punishment is used, where the children are taught to strike
back physically as a way to handle problems, and where parental involvement and
warmth are frequently lacking. Students who regularly display bullying behaviors are
generally defiant or oppositional toward adults, antisocial, and apt to break school rules.
In contrast to prevailing myths, bullies appear to have little anxiety and to possess
strong self-esteem. There is little evidence to support the contention that they victimize
others because they feel bad about themselves (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
Students who are victims of bullying are typically anxious, insecure, cautious, and suffer
from low self-esteem, rarely defending themselves or retaliating when confronted by
students who bully them. They may lack social skills and friends, and they are often
socially isolated. Victims tend to be close to their parents and may have parents who
can be described as overprotective. The major defining physical characteristic of victims
is that they tend to be physically weaker than their peers--other physical characteristics
such as weight, dress, or wearing eyeglasses do not appear to be significant factors
that can be correlated with victimization (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
CONSEQUENCES OF BULLYING
As established by studies in Scandinavian countries, a strong correlation appears to
exist between bullying other students during the school years and experiencing legal or
criminal troubles as adults. In one study, 60% of those characterized as bullies in
grades 6-9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 (Olweus, 1993). Chronic
bullies seem to maintain their behaviors into adulthood, negatively influencing their
ability to develop and maintain positive relationships (Oliver, Hoover, & Hazler, 1994).
Victims often fear school and consider school to be an unsafe and unhappy place. As
many as 7% of America's eighth-graders stay home at least once a month because of
bullies. The act of being bullied tends to increase some students' isolation because their
peers do not want to lose status by associating with them or because they do not want
to increase the risks of being bullied themselves. Being bullied leads to depression and
low self-esteem, problems that can carry into adulthood (Olweus, 1993; Batsche &
PERCEPTIONS OF BULLYING
Oliver, Hoover, and Hazler (1994) surveyed students in the Midwest and found that a
clear majority felt that victims were at least partially responsible for bringing the bullying
on themselves. Students surveyed tended to agree that bullying toughened a weak
person, and some felt that bullying "taught" victims appropriate behavior. Charach,
Pepler, and Ziegler (1995) found that students considered victims to be "weak," "nerds,"
and "afraid to fight back." However, 43% of the students in this study said that they try
to help the victim, 33% said that they should help but do not, and only 24% said that
bullying was none of their business.
Parents are often unaware of the bullying problem and talk about it with their children
only to a limited extent (Olweus, 1993). Student surveys reveal that a low percentage of
students seem to believe that adults will help. Students feel that adult intervention is
infrequent and ineffective, and that telling adults will only bring more harassment from
bullies. Students report that teachers seldom or never talk to their classes about bullying
(Charach, Pepler, & Ziegler, 1995). School personnel may view bullying as a harmless
right of passage that is best ignored unless verbal and psychological intimidation
crosses the line into physical assault or theft.
Bullying is a problem that occurs in the social environment as a whole. The bullies'
aggression occurs in social contexts in which teachers and parents are generally
unaware of the extent of the problem and other children are either reluctant to get
involved or simply do not know how to help (Charach, Pepler, & Ziegler, 1995). Given
this situation, effective interventions must involve the entire school community rather
than focus on the perpetrators and victims alone. Smith and Sharp (1994) emphasize
the need to develop whole-school bullying policies, implement curricular measures,
improve the schoolground environment, and empower students through conflict
resolution, peer counseling, and assertiveness training. Olweus (1993) details an
approach that involves interventions at the school, class, and individual levels. It
includes the following components:
- An initial questionnaire can be distributed to students and adults. The questionnaire
helps both adults and students become aware of the extent of the problem, helps to
justify intervention efforts, and serves as a benchmark to measure the impact of
improvements in school climate once other intervention components are in place.
- A parental awareness campaign can be conducted during parent-teacher conference
days, through parent newsletters, and at PTA meetings. The goal is to increase parental
awareness of the problem, point out the importance of parental involvement for program
success, and encourage parental support of program goals. Questionnaire results are
- Teachers can work with students at the class level to develop class rules against
bullying. Many programs engage students in a series of formal role-playing exercises
and related assignments that can teach those students directly involved in bullying
alternative methods of interaction. These programs can also show other students how
they can assist victims and how everyone can work together to create a school climate
where bullying is not tolerated (Sjostrom & Stein, 1996).
- Other components of anti-bullying programs include individualized interventions with
the bullies and victims, the implementation of cooperative learning activities to reduce
social isolation, and increasing adult supervision at key times (e.g., recess or lunch).
Schools that have implemented Olweus's program have reported a 50% reduction in
Bullying is a serious problem that can dramatically affect the ability of students to
progress academically and socially. A comprehensive intervention plan that involves all
students, parents, and school staff is required to ensure that all students can learn in a
safe and fear-free environment.
This publication was funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement,
U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RR93002007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.
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